July 29, 2018
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
10th Sunday after Pentecost
The Lamb and the 144,000
Our scripture reading today in chapter 14 of Revelation is a continuation of chapter 7. In chapter 7, God holds back the wrath that is about to befall the persecuted Christians in the Roman Empire long enough for them to be sealed. Listen to Chapter 7:1-4:
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree.
And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, (This is the first of seven angels. The other six angels will be mentioned in Chapter 14. Remember, seven means whole or complete.) And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads. And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:”
This passage is important for us today. When we maintain our faith in Jesus Christ, God seals us through the indwelling of his Holy Spirit so that we are spiritually protected in times of trials, tribulations, and persecution. If you and I stay faithful to God and to Jesus Christ, when God’s judgment does finally come, you and I and all of God’s people will be ready. Our sealing means that we will not be removed from the presence of God, but that we will survive spiritually in the eternal heaven near the throne of God.
Folks, God’s promises always come true. The Roman Empire is in the dustbin of history, but the community of God, the Christian people, is still in this world. Christians are still making disciples of Jesus Christ and they are still transforming this world. God and his goodness and love will always prevail. God’s people will always win the war against evil. Would you pray with me?
When you get a chance this week, please reread chapters 7 and 14 as one visionary unit. I really enjoy these two chapters. We are assured of our sealing as God’s people, but we are also warned in chapter 14 of God’s mighty wrath to those who do not choose him.
In Chapter 7, God seals his people and that number is 144,000. We will talk about that number in a minute. When he does this, all of heaven breaks out once again in praise and worship. And then someone asks, “Who are these people?” Listen to the answer for the clue to the 144, 000 in Chapter 7, starting with verse 14. These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, (in other words, they are the ones who have suffered and endured the persecution of the Roman Emperor) and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Notice what it says here. “They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.” In other words, these people who have made it into heaven are the people, who on their own chose Jesus Christ as their Savior. These are the ones who have chosen to restore their relationship with God through the blood of Jesus Christ who died upon the cross.
And the passage continues: For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple: and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them (John is saying, since they have chosen God, God will protect them). They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; (this is referring back to the Jews when they were slaves in Egypt and it refers to us today when we have been freed from being slaves to sin and death) for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Folks, this refers to Jesus who gives us life and who gives us comfort.
When we have been sealed by God through choosing Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are guaranteed a place in heaven free of strife, stress, and sin, because our focus in entirely on the Lamb, Jesus Christ, who is at the center of heaven.
But there will only be 144, 000 witnesses, you say? How am I going to get in? Remember, the numbers in Revelation are symbolic. It was something that people understood in that day because apocalyptic literature was quite prevalent. Let me show you.
144,000 is a multiple of the numbers 12 and 10. Twelve, if you remember from our previous messages, means the people of God. The number 10 stands for inclusiveness. So if we write 144,000 this way: 12 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10, some amazing things appear. Remember the twenty-four elders from last week who fell down before the throne of God and worshiped. Well we see that here. The people of God are represented by the 12 tribes of the Old Testament and the 12 disciples of the New Testament. So now we have the people of God before Christ and the people of God after Christ.
The number 10 represents inclusiveness and we have it written three times which is perfection. So 144,000 perfectly includes all the people of God who have professed faith in Jesus Christ and have remained faithful to God over all time. Therefore, you and I, if we profess faith in Jesus Christ, can be one of the 144, 000 witnesses or one of the people of God. There is room in heaven for all of us who believe.
Let’s move on to Chapter 14: Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. Remember from Chapter 7, that name is the seal of God that protects us. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth. You and I can be part of this great choir in heaven singing praises to God. When we declare faith in Jesus Christ, we have been purchased, that is redeemed, through Jesus’ death. The penalty for our sins has been paid in full by Christ and we have the privilege of worshiping in that glorious place called heaven.
Our text continues in Chapter 14, verse 4: These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless. These two verses talk about the people who have not participated in pagan worship. It was common for each city in the Roman Empire to have a temple to one of the Roman gods. Part of the worship experience was to go to the temple during lunch time, have a meal from the plentiful food offered to the gods, and then have a “good time” with one of the temple prostitutes. Of course, money was offered by the worshiper for all of this to support the temple. Having sexual relations with one of the temple prostitutes supposedly guaranteed that man’s family good fortune, increased fertility, and bountiful crops from the blessings of the gods.
But obviously, the Christians and the Jews abhorred this practice. Their allegiance was to the one and only true God. Therefore, you can now understand verses 4 and 5. Christians were those who kept themselves “chaste” and did not participate in the pagan worship practices.
As we continue in the passage, we come to the last six angels that we first heard about in chapter 7. The second angel mentioned in verse 6 is making a final plea as he spreads the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ for the people of earth to hear. If one doesn’t receive the good news and make this final decision for Jesus Christ, then the wrath and judgment of God will follow.
Verse 8, the third angel appears: Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality. Babylon was one of the first nations to capture the Jews. Now, Rome is referred to as Babylon, because it is basically holding the Jews and Christians as captives and persecuting them. Rome’s immorality has a great influence on the territories it has captured. But the Jews and Christians refuse to participate.
Verse 9, the next angel comes declaring: If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God. The beast is the Emperor of Rome, Domitian. By this time, the Emperors of Rome considered themselves gods. They were addressed as Our Lord and Savior. Domitian made sure that a statue or an image of him was erected in each of the cities of the Roman Empire.
Once a year, each citizen, slave, and member of the Roman Empire had to go before the image of Domitian, bow down, and publicly declare him as My Lord and My Savior. The worshiper would then be given a certificate that would allow them to buy and sell in the marketplace because they were a loyal subject. This certificate was the mark of the beast, the Emperor, and had to be carried with that person. But Christians and Jews refused to bow down to the Emperor and were therefore excluded from commerce in the Empire. Their persecution was an economic persecution which led many of them to die of starvation and disease. But John is telling them here that if they persevere they will be honored in heaven. Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. Write, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on…so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them. Those who worshiped the Emperor and the false gods would be sent away from the presence of God when they died.
As we continue in this heavenly vision that John is seeing in verse 14, the fifth angel comes out of the Temple of God and stands beside Jesus who is sitting on a cloud and who has a large sickle in his hand and says, Put in your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe. Then He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.
Jesus was then joined by the last two angels who also called for the gathering of all of those who had worshiped the beast, the Emperor, to be gathered up and put into the great wine press of the wrath of God. And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of 1600 stadia. In this vision, God was telling John that he would intervene in the persecution that was taking place under the Emperor Domitian. God’s judgment would reach everywhere in the world. Sixteen hundred is a multiple of 4 and 10. Four represents the created order and 10, remember, represents inclusiveness. In other words, God’s judgment reached everywhere. God was bringing judgment upon the whole of Roman society for what they were doing to the Jews and Christians. And God kept his word, because one year later, in 96 A.D., Domitian died and the persecution and the Emperor worship stopped.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, here is what we can understand and learn from all of this. First, God is in control. No matter what trials, challenges, disasters, or failures we may have in life, God is ultimately in control. We may have the right to make choices about what we do, but God will control the final outcome. Good will triumph over evil and God will turn any misfortune created by us or by Satan into something that will ultimately bring glory to him. As we will learn in the last chapter of Revelation, God intervened in one of the worst persecutions of Christians in history and eliminated the source of the problem, the Emperor Domitian.
Second, you and I must remain faithful to Jesus Christ and to his teachings. We have learned from our scripture today that those who remain faithful to Christ throughout their persecution ultimately receive their reward, a place in heaven surrounding the throne of God giving unceasing praise.
Third, there will be a judgment. Jesus and his angels will call all men and women to account for their lives. Not for what they did or didn’t do as far as deeds here on earth, but for what choice they made concerning their relationship with Jesus. Those who choose Christ will be welcomed into heaven. Those who don’t or who make no choice at all, will as John says, be thrown into the great wine press of the wrath of God to be forever removed from the presence of God. This is called hell.
Revelation is a book of hope for those who remain faithful. But Revelation is a book to be feared if you don’t. Chose Christ and God will seal you with the Holy Spirit; but chose anything else, whether through your pride, self-centeredness, or stubbornness, and God will say, “I never knew you.” What is your choice? If you have not chosen Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you need to make that decision soon. What will your choice be?